Two hikers who were exploring the backcountry of Glacier Bay National Park are recovering today from injuries sustained when ice from a calving glacier struck them.
According to a dispatch from the park, the two were hiking along the face of Crillon Glacier at the head of Lituya Bay last Wednesday when "the glacier calved and large amounts of ice and debris struck them, causing severe injuries."
"The Coast Guard immediately launched a rescue operation, dispatching helicopter from Air Station Sitka. The response time was two hours, though," the release said. "Ranger Todd Bruno coordinated a simultaneous NPS response, sending district ranger Jacqueline Ashwell and seasonal ranger Erin Shandley from the Yakutat office via an airplane equipped with tundra tires that could land at the face of the glacier.
"Although they got to the scene before the Coast Guard, they were unable to land. Instead, they assisted the Coast Guard helicopter by maintaining communications with Sector Juneau while its crew was on the ground, treating the victims. One had suffered a head injury and possible concussion; the other had an open arm fracture. The third person in the group was not injured but was unable to operate the boat that they’d used to reach Lituaya Bay."
The three were airlifted to Sitka, where the two injured hikers were admitted to a local hospital.
Crillon Glacier is not a tidewater glacier and does not actively calve; since there is constant movement of ice and debris from the face of any glacier, though, visitors are always reminded to avoid walking or boating within a quarter mile of the glacier, park officials noted. Lituya Bay is approximately 100 air miles from Juneau. It’s seldom visited and can only be reached by boat or plane. Marine VHF communications are spotty at best.